Israeli army refusenik Rotem Mor, 29, spoke to Merton Palestine Solidarity Campaign last night at the Irish Centre in Wimbledon and, unwittingly, exposed the hypocrisy of his audience.
Rotem is only a half-refusenik. He had served one and a half years in the Israeli Army as a teacher and subsequently served a one month prison sentence for not completing the three years.
Last night Rotem detailed his political activitism which included fighting the wall that divides Israelis and Palestinians, helping to rebuild demolished Palestinian homes, holding seminars where Israeli youngsters could talk freely about being conscripted into the army and creating a summer camp where Israelis and Palestinians could meet.
He said that many young Israelis who had been to his seminars had gone on to refuse army service and in Beit Surik he was instrumental in having the wall re-routed on to the Green Line after a Supreme Court judgment.
At the start of his talk he spoke about the discrimination of Sephardi Jews in Israel after they were expelled from Arab countries. A member of the audience, already getting impatient, angrily asked “Are you a Zionist?”
Rotem didn’t answer.
Again “Are you a Zionist?” But Rotem continued talking about Sephardi Jews.
After his fourth request was ignored the man shouted “This is bullshit” and stormed out.
Actually, Rotem believes no states, including Israel, should exist unlike PSC audiences who believe that only the Jewish state should not exist.
Rotem went on to show us photos and newspaper cuttings of his travels throughout the world with other Israeli refusniks.
The headline in one French newspaper read: “Ils preferent le geole a l’uniforme.”
He showed us pictures of him meeting Palestinians and felt that Israelis and Palestinians should meet more. Then, he said, during war Israelis might think twice before attacking Palestinian friends and Palestinians might think the same about their Israeli friends.
He also showed us pictures of his friend Yehuda who lives on a settlement. Yehuda, although religious, moved to the settlement because it was cheap. Rotem said that is was only a minority of settlers that burn Palestinian olive trees.
All this talk of cross communal dialogue was very nice but during the Q&A the audience was determined to hear more criticism of Israel.
Rotem was asked why refused. Was it due to the illegality of the occupation? Rotem told the audience that international law was complex and his refusal was based merely on seeing how soldiers suffer.
He was also asked whether people should boycott Israeli goods. He said Palestinians should as they were the ones suffering but that the English had no moral grounds for doing so due to the occupation of Afghanistan. He said he could easily boycott 99% of British rock groups if he wished to.
The audience tried to persuade Rotem that they hadn’t themselves voted for the war in Afghanistan and that Israel was on a par with apartheid South Africa.
But Rotem told them that they had responsibility for their own government’s choices and whereas in boycotting South Africa the reasonable objective had been one man one vote in boycotting Israel there was no objective.
By now the audience was not happy that a young Israeli was preaching to them about their hypocrisy.
Finally, he was asked about the difficulty of living in Israel (Rotem lives just outside Jerusalem) after refusing. He said it wasn’t difficult.
Socially things are fine for him and being a refusenik has allowed him to travel the world, give talks and meet people. He now owns Jerusalem Reality Tours and is currently writing a book about his experiences.
Obviously refusing to serve in the IDF can be a potentially lucrative business idea.